Shortcake #19 – “One Last Dive” and “2AM”

It’s not my usual m.o. to blog when I’m at work, but since I have a short space of time to spare and nobody’s looking I decided to give it a bash and put something together. Right, so it happens that I managed to start off my day in a pleasurably disturbing way by having these two short films accompany me while I was finishing my coffee.

“One Last Dive” is a minute-long single-take film directed by Jason Eisener (“Hobo with a shotgun”), so I can’t really say that it’s an amateur job. There’s not much to say about something that lasts only 69 seconds; it was shot for a “3:07 AM Project” (conceived as a part of the viral campaign for “The Conjuring”) that actually imparts the format of the film (1 minute, 1 take) and the genre. I’ll definitely sit down and watch the remaining three shorts (that you can watch here), and I can already tell by “One last dive” that at least Eisener knows what he’s doing. The film is creepy and disturbing, even though there’s not much of a story there, but in being absolutely terrifying, it’s done the job pretty well, I must say. And the fact everything takes place under water with limited visibility only serves to amplify the claustrophobic sense of threat.

“2AM” is a freshly released short produced by Go For Broke Pictures that has managed to make a bit of a splash on Youtube by raking in a million views in under 72 hours. Directed by Michael Evans, the film is an adaptation of an allegedly true story found on Reddit and while by the end it might have strayed away from it, it still remains pretty disturbing. I should only hope that it was all made up and none of that was actually true, because I would not like to find myself in a situation like his. And if I did, I would probably never be able to sleep again. Nicely done, shot with a pro angle making nice use of the depth of field to capitalize on the fear, “2AM” makes for 4 minutes of decent horror. And if you buy into the story’s origins – well, then you’re in for a ride.

Shortcake #18 – “Conscription”

Whenever we think of war and its repercussions, we almost invariably have in mind an entire string of cliché pictures from the dying soldiers, through holocaust victims, refugees, to pretty much who looks like he has lost someone in the midst of some kind of military conflict. It is not my intention here to somehow depreciate the importance and the powerful message of said pictures that we immediately associate with the horrors of war, but there are things we rarely think or speak of, that also fall into such category.

“Conscription” by Jack Bottomley is just that – a powerful example of how war breaks human spirit. It’s a single-take story (a criterion to enter One Shot Movie Competition, where it clawed its way to the final screening) about a man whose life is terribly disturbed by the war. So, accompanied by a radio speech of Winston Churchill’s (which is pretty ironic given how the story unfolds in the end, against how Churchill’s speeches are widely considered the pinnacle of uplifting patriotism) the man struggles with the most difficult decision of his life.

It’s simply stunning how much one can stuff into a single camera shot that lasts about 2 minutes. I mean, I’ve seen things before that tried to look smart by shoving all kinds of nonsense into the frame, but “Conscription” by way of minimalism in shooting with attention to detail gives the story a sense of depth without steering towards pretentious moralizing. I think Jack Bottomley has accomplished something here, because he invariably forced me to think what I would do if I were in such a position myself. Where does my patriotism end and where does it begin? How do my personal beliefs and moral code fare against what my country could expect from me? And do I even care enough about it all…

I reckon that most of the so-called difficult decisions we face during our lifetimes are on a completely different level to what is posed in here by “Conscription”. At no point in life do we want to choose how our lives would end… And at any given point in time, chances are that somewhere in the world someone might be faced with a dilemma of just that nature – and it scared the living hell out of me more than any other horrors of war. After all, the mass-media and Hollywood have made me somehow immune to the bulk of the violence that is associated with military conflicts, but this amazing, creepy and ultimately disturbing short film broken through this thick shell of indifference that had encapsulated that little part of my brain that is responsible for empathy. Well done, Sir!

Shortcake #17 – “Bridget”

I think it’s the first time this year when I actually thought I’d have no decent shorts to watch on a Friday evening. I ventured on the Tropfest website to have a go at the New York finalists and I couldn’t believe the amount of pretentious shite that got shortlisted for the finals. Fair enough, there was a handful of good entrants, but I think the official top 3 (with a special nod to the winner) were, maybe not so much terrible, but mediocre. Yup, that’s a good word – mediocre.

This time, the keyword was ‘bridge’ and, quite expectedly – as the festival was taking place in NY, most of the shorts featured the Brooklyn Bridge in some way or another, and my God, was that annoying… So, it should come as no surprise that my favorite short of the featured finalists had nothing to do with all that crap.

 

It’s called “Bridget” (directed by David Eisenberg and Kaela Wohl) and there are no bridges in it… sort of… Anyway, it’s wonderfully witty and funny in its portrayal of a potentially vital problem of global proportions we’re going to be facing in the foreseeable future. Apart from that, it’s about a girl trying desperately to sign up for online dating. It’s only 2 minutes long, but it’s well worth it. Plus, it didn’t try to be something that it wasn’t only to fit the criteria of the festival. Maybe I’m slowly evolving into this uber-cynical monstrosity that cannot and will not be satisfied by any attempt of deeper thought in indie cinema, but I think that more often than not, young aspiring film-makers are totally missing the point of a short film by trying to squeeze a whole damn story with character arcs and complex plots, and multiple scenes and what-not, all the while the message the short was supposed to be carrying ends up omitted; covered by layers of nonsense.

Well, my faith was restored when I saw “Bridget”. It’s light, funny, nicely shot and while really minimalistic, the story kind of makes you think about the phenomenon of the Internet and how its evolution is surely going to be affected by the sheer volume of people using it. If anything, coming up with a username for that forum you’ve just been trying to join is going to be a challenge.

Enjoy!

Shortcake #16 – “Moving In” and “Smile”

How much can you do in 16 seconds? What do you hope to accomplish when you start off your article with a question? Errr…

Anyway, the question stands, as it seems to be a premise of a relatively fresh film competition organized by River Film Production Company that encourages film-makers from all walks of life to put their skills to a test. And the test involves shooting a short that consists of four shots, no more no less, each of which is exactly four seconds in length and the entirety of a short fits the genre criterion of the challenge – it needs to be a horror…

 

Really, what can you possibly do to scare me when you are confined to 16 seconds of footage… You can’t possibly tell me a story, but you can only tease it enough so that I can make up the rest in my head. So, when your hands are tied, you can maybe throw a jump-scare at me. That’s what I thought before I watched all 32 entrants (you can see them here on Youtube, or on the River Film website where you can vote for your personal favorite). I have to say that I just spent some scary 10 minutes of my life. Fair enough, some of the films weren’t up to par with the rest, but it is to be expected and I shan’t really discuss it further. The whole make-up of the shortlisted films spans from slashers, zombies, ghost stories, bits of homage to classics (like “Halloween”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Saw” or “Evil Dead”), horror comedy, stop-motion, all the way to proper animation. From prop effects to CGI, from gore to terror, you’ll see it all. Some shorts will scare you, some won’t, but give them a go anyway. It’s only 10 minutes of your time and if you like horror, you will not be disappointed.

 

What I think is the best of all the little 16-second horrors is “Moving In” by Mat Johns (whose other really disturbing short – “Run” – I had the pleasure to see some time ago). It’s nice, creepy and it scared me a bunch. On top of that, it actually tells a story in those 16 seconds – so that’s a win right there. Interestingly, Mat Johns has also entered a second film into the pot – “Smile”, but I think that while it still tells a very condensed and disturbing story, it lacks some oomph in comparison to the first one. But since watching them back to back would take less than a minute, why the hell not…

I’m now secretly hoping that Mat’s work will get picked up by someone with funds and as a result we’d get so see his take on horror on the big screen someday. Fingers crossed…

Shortcake #15 – “Dr Easy”

Note to self: if I ever need to be reminded why I like Sci-Fi at all, I shall simply watch a short like that one – “Dr Easy”. It has been released a couple of days ago and its story is based on a chapter from an apparently fantastic novel “The Red Men” by Matthew De Abaitua. By the way, now that I have seen the short, I think it is vital for me to go and read the book. Why? Because, simply put, this might be the kind of sci-fi I love the most – the dirty kind.

While I enjoy any type of science-fiction, what “Dr Easy” has to offer is pushing just the right buttons for me. In short, it’s not so much of a story, but a sequence, in which a medical robot (Dr Easy) attends a crime scene of some sort where an armed man has barricaded himself in a house and the police has siege’d the building up. What Dr Easy tries to do is ensure the man comes out of it alive, by tending to his wounds and trying to calm him down, while the heavily armed SWAT units are just outside waiting to strike. And that’s pretty much it.

What the makers of “Dr Easy” are trying to accomplish here by presenting the world with this beautifully crafted short is to create enough buzz to get their full project funded. I don’t know, how this will pan out, but if they attracted attention of some major studios, we might see a proper feature adaptation of “The Red Men” in the cinemas. I, for one, cannot wait for it to happen, because both stylistically and in terms of story-telling, “Dr Easy” places the bar very high. The special effects are subtle and complement the story perfectly without overshadowing it. While the dialogue is sparse in the film, the whole story is suspenseful and compelling. Therefore, if the makers –once funded – deliver the full feature to the standard set by “Dr Easy”, we might have a blockbuster on our hands.

So, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give “Dr Easy” a go. It’s a lovely little Sci-Fi short that reminded me that the genre is still in good shape – alive and kicking. Let’s just hope “Dr Easy” becomes the full feature it deserves to be. If “Mama” could do it (see the short here and read my review of the feature here), I see no reason why this project would not get funded. Enjoy.

Shortcake #14 – “Fusion”

The evening is slowly drawing to a close and becomes a night and I’m sitting here in my new apartment… tired, but glad. With all my possessions still bagged, or boxed and evenly distributed all over the place I thought it was a good idea to whip out my laptop from underneath al the rubble and christen the apartment by writing a post… because why the hell not.Therefore, a nice short text was in order and I knew exactly what to write about.

A few days back I noticed on my facebook feed that my favourite kiwi film-makers have been up to something lately and I promptly decided to check it out. It’s been available online for little more than two weeks already, but in case you haven’t seen it yet, drop whatever it is you’re doing and watch “Fusion” – a fresh short from Sideways Productions, created by Allan George and Ben Fowler. Since I think I know what to expect from a guy like Allan, there was little debate whether “Fusion” would be any good. His “Sounds Perfect” still remains a short that I re-watch periodically for good fun and my spidey-sense kept telling me “Fusion” was going to blow me away. But I have to say that my expectations weren’t all that sky-high, because I didn’t want to build up myself up for the film not to live up to them, but I think I can now put my doubts to bed and say it once and for all – whatever these guys make is pure gold. Full stop.

 

There’s no discussion here – “Fusion” is a perfect 6.5 minutes of hilarious comedy that not only kept the style I loved so much from “Sounds perfect”, but came up with an outrageously humorous concept, and then ran with it. Seriously, I have no clue what’s going on in Allan’s mind at any given time and I’m a bit scared of the level of positive insanity resting in this guy’s head, but he knows comedy and has a grasp on film-making that can leave me lying on the floor (literally) laughing my behind off.

Now, “Fusion” is a concise story where – again in a pseudo-documentary style – we come across a disturbingly awkward fella, who invents things by taking two known things and merging them into a brand new hybrid thing; fusing the nation together… And that’s enough to make me wet myself. The superb acting and a ridiculous concept (how do you come up with these things anyway, Allan?) is more than enough here to create a short to remember. Need I say more? Of course, I could get into details of how I loved the cinematography (because I did) or the quirky protagonist, but the bottom line is – I haven’t had a laugh of that calibre in weeks now. I don’t exactly know what it is, but you guys make these films in a way that always gets me. Now, if you excuse me, I’ll go and hit the hay… In my bitchen…

Shortcake #13 – “Concrete”

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be granted one wish, a wish so powerful that regardless of what you think of, it would come true? Of course you have… Everybody has… When they were little, or just immature…

 

But seriously, imagine that somewhere out there there’s a box that opens only once every hundred years and in it you’ll find whatever you just wished for. And this is what “Concrete” is all about – a guy who is about to make his wish, but is brutally interrupted by a nosy cleaning lady. I don’t know about you, but I had a good laugh watching it. It’s nice and short, very compact even. The film in itself is very professionally shot, but that doesn’t really matter because the whole 6 minutes you’ll be thinking of what is in the box (every time I write or say the phrase ‘what’s in the box’, I say it in my head in Brad Pitt’s voice…). Because, of course, the wish-granting box is most likely a kind of a scumbag; you don’t really have to make a wish to get it to work, you need to think of something… concrete…

“Concrete” is actually not a stand-alone picture (well, it is per se), but a part of “Imagination” series and I will make sure to go through them all. Anyway, before I did, I just wanted to write a couple of words about “Concrete” , because it was just so good. And also because the whole time I kept thinking about a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man…

staypuft

In summary, I have to tip my hat to Daniel Benmayor who directed this little film, because it just made my morning and hopefully the whole day. Well done, sir!